Golden Valley High School Cardinal Regime members thought they were meeting on Friday to discuss a new medical form their parents would need to sign.
They soon found out that form is needed for a trip to perform in the annual Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1, 2009.
The surprise announcement was made to the marching band members during an impromptu band meeting in the southeast Merced campus' theater building.
"So, did I have you fooled?" band director Greg Christiansen asked his musicians.
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And, judging from the rafter-rattling screams of the 130-plus band members, they were. "I'm so excited," said Golden Valley senior Ashlee Leonard, a member of the color guard. "We get to march in one of the biggest parades in the world."
The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, which got its start in 1890, is watched by more than 40 million television viewers and a million spectators every year. And while the parade is recognized worldwide by its floats decorated entirely with fresh flowers, high school music teachers know it for the limited number of spaces for marching bands. "They're pretty picky," Christiansen said. Out of the hundreds of applications they receive from bands all over the globe, "they only take about 15."
Despite the marching band's success this year -- winning top awards at every band review it entered this fall -- Christiansen said he hadn't intended to apply for the 2009 parade. He had put in a Rose Parade application years before on behalf of the Cardinal Regime, but it wasn't chosen.
But after three Tournament of Roses officials saw the band's prize-winning performances at band reviews in Cupertino and Santa Cruz, Christiansen found his band was being recruited. "They asked why I hadn't applied," the band director said, getting the impression that if Golden Valley went though the process, it was very likely it might get a chance to perform in the parade.
Sure enough, not long after Christiansen turned in the application, he got the call from a member of the parade's board. "It was Dec. 26," he recalled. "I met with the parade officials that weekend." Christiansen did not share the good news with his musicians, however, until Friday. "We wanted it to be a surprise," he said.
This will be Christiansen's second time directing a band in the parade. In 1990, he took Merced High School's band to the parade. Once Golden Valley High School opened in 1994, he became the music director there. "I've seen this program grow," Christiansen said, adding that the band began with only 28 members. "This is quite an accomplishment."
Golden Valley High School Principal Craig Chavez said the invitation from the Tournament of Roses Association "is the best gift you can give a first-year principal." Merced Union High School District Superintendent Robert Fore told the students Friday that being chosen for this highly coveted position didn't happen by accident: "It happened because you exercised a lot of self-discipline and a lot of dedication to one another."
Luckily for the band's Class of 2008 members, their dedication won't go unrewarded. Christiansen said he plans to include as many of the graduating seniors in the parade performance as possible. "I don't care if they're in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio or New York -- I'm going to get them back here," he said. "They deserve to be there."
Leonard said she was relieved to hear she and her fellow seniors would be included. "But I'd still be happy for them," even if she couldn't go, she said.
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Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at 209 385-2407 or email@example.com.